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Cyber attacks on financial services might seem obvious because of the amount of money these institutions deal with but most of the cyber attacks on financial services taking place are to collect sensitive data of the users and companies, data that have high demand in the black market. 

Financial services are subjected to cyber-attack 300 times more than any other firms or businesses operating in the industry. Cyber-attacks on financial institutions cost $18 million to an individual firm than any other firm doing business in the industry, which is only $12 million, according to Forbes

You can see the difference here. It’s no surprise why attackers choose the financial industry to exploit more than the general industry. 

The motivations behind the increasing cyber-attacks on financial services are data theft, data sabotage, and direct financial theft. As financial services deal with not only money but also sensitive pieces of information of the users so these institutions are gold mines for cybercriminals. After stealing data, cybercriminals use that data to monitor a specific individual or specific organization. What’s more alarming is that these data are in high demand in the black market. From individual to large national and international crime syndicates or companies also get involved in acquiring these leaked or stolen data to see if they can exploit opportunities from their counterpart.

How Cyber Attacks on Financial Services are Hurting both the Consumer and the Company

Stealing data from financial institutions has never been an easy task but using sophisticated technology to store data that is not well secured or lacks of monitoring the system, could make it easier for an intruder to connect from a remote place and steal the data. Besides money, data related to financial institutes are the most interesting and valuable to cybercriminals. With the transformation of technology, cyber criminals are continuously developing new tools and methods of hijacking data from these financial institutions. Here are some ways how hackers are stealing data from financial institutions:


  1. Fingerprint data stealing and anti-fraud bypassing:

    Cybercriminals are investing a lot of resources to crack anti-fraud systems developed by financial institutions. Because nowadays just gaining the users’ user's name and login password is not enough. Cybercriminals now need digital fingerprints to exploit the anti-fraud systems developed by the financial sectors.
    For example, there is an underground market called Genesis. This is a private online market that is accessible by invitation only where you can get your hands on plenty of profiles including browser fingerprints, website user logins, passwords, cookies, credit card information, etc. By acquiring this information cybercriminals can impersonate a real user from around the globe and can perform any illegal activities while being under the radar.
  1. Exploiting multi-factor authentication: 

    Though we consider it the safest way to secure data via multi-factor authentication, cybercriminals have explored ways to exploit this as well. For example, criminals use flaws in remote banking apps and systems to bypass the system-integrated OTPs(one-time passcodes) as an extra layer of security. They are also using various social engineering techniques to exploit the end-users and resulting in hacking their financial information.
    By gaining access to a user’s account, the criminals get access to a banking portal, which then makes their intrusion into a financial institution's core easier. In this way, they can hack into both the user and the financial organization.
  1. ATM malware and jackpotting:

    By attacking targeted ATMs via malware cybercriminals can both steal money and users’ information. For jackpotting, cybercriminals exploit the flaws of the software and the physical state of the ATMs.
  2. Credential stuffing: 

    Credential stuffing refers to those types of cyber attacks on financial services where the cybercriminals exploit users’ data to exploit the system. Acquiring sensitive information like a financial institution’s customer’s user id and login credentials, credit card, etc. cybercriminals access the user’s account. Eventually, using these credentials, attackers gain access to the financial institutions’ IT infrastructure and perform illegal activities like stealing money from multiple accounts or stealing sensitive financial data which they eventually trade in the black market.
  1. Supply chain attacks: 

    Nowadays, financial institutions have to use third-party or fourth-party vendors to serve a wide range of customers or to broaden their service boundaries. But it is a challenge itself to maintain both the financial institution’s security and the security of the vendors. Attackers, henceforth, try to exploit the vendors as they are easier to hack. By gaining access to a vendor, attackers then make their way up to the mother company.
  2. Global operational risk: 

    As a part of globalization and to serve not only national but also international customers, financial institutions are expanding their services overseas. Expanding in international markets makes the organization a lucrative target. Because in the process often there remain some loopholes. The regulations and protocols are not the same in all the locations and the cybercriminals also try to leverage the scope to exploit the expansion process.
  3. Cloud service Compromise:

    Financial institutes are using cloud services to protect their business and their customers. However, cloud infrastructure is not 100% hack-proof. As it introduced mostly cloud services for public use, it becomes an easy target for cyber-attackers and this is the most happened cyber-attack on financial services.
  4. Phishing attacks:

    Phishing is a very common type of cyber attack on financial services. Cybercriminals use phishing attacks to trick a user to open a malicious link or pose as a legitimate application download link as an email attachment. You might think of how this is related to financial institutions’ safety. A phishing attack on a financial institution can get a foothold in the institution’s network, which is just a part of a bigger attack, like an advanced, persistent threat (APT) event. To gain access to the network, an intruder simply uses one employee of the financial institution as his phishing attack victim.
  5. Compromise on the Internet of Things (IoT):

     Most of the cyber attacks on financial services take place because of the vulnerabilities of the software. But nowadays the Internet of Things has become one of the key points for cybercriminals to exploit. From a simple fingerprint scanner or card reader to an office router connected to an insecure network poses a threat to the overall infrastructure security.
    Most of the employees of an organization are unaware of how their daily used IoT devices are prone to cyber-attacks. As these devices are not always required the same level of security check as a smartphone deceive or a computer, exploiting these IoT devices cybercriminals can gain access to a financial account or any other IT infrastructure.
  6. Spear phishing: It’s an old trick where the sender poses as a legitimate designated person of an organization and requests confidential information like login information, users, or reset password links. Attackers in these emails appear to be from a known source, a trusted key communication guy who is concerned about your safety. If you fall into these traps, then you will end up compromising your sensitive information. By acquiring this information, the attackers can easily get into your or your organization’s network and bombard the organization’s website or IT infrastructure. Attackers often target financial institution employees to perform this attack. Because if they can hook up an employee, then they can make their way to the financial institution’s network and can gain both sensitive data and can steal money.
  1. DDoS attack:

    Distributed Denial of Service refers to that type of attack where a cyber criminal overwhelms an organization’s network by sending a bewildering amount of traffic and making the organization’s IT infrastructure come to a standstill. By performing these cyber attacks on financial services, the attackers can freeze the access of the employees or the customers to their accounts or data. This downtime is crucial for a financial company. To get rid of the situation, sometimes the organizations end up meeting a criminal’s payment demand.
  2. Social media attacks: 

    Attackers can create a fake page or profile posing as an authentic social media front of the organization. As users are not aware that the organization might not have any real social media fronts, they end up communicating with the page or profile and become a victim. As the users communicate with the fake profile or page, the criminals ask for information that compromises the user’s security and the related organization’s security.
  3. Insider threats: 

    The last but not the least of a financial institution’s threat concerns are the employees who are not satisfied with the authority or somehow have lesser work ethics can bring catastrophe to the organization with their insider knowledge and resources. 60% of the attacks that take place within a financial institution are often carried out by an insider of the company.

10 Ways of preventing cyber attacks on financial services

Preventing Cyber Attacks on Financial Services


As day by day, cyber attacks on financial services are rising significantly in the financial industry, a proactive prevention strategy is the only way to be one step ahead of cybercriminals. All financial institutions take drastic steps to fight cybercriminals. Here are some ways to stop cyber-attacks on financial services and make their infrastructure hack-proof:

  1. Assessing a firm’s cloud security:

    we should make it mandatory to regularly review a firm’s cloud infrastructure. A firm needs to make its cloud infrastructure up to date and check and recheck the existing system compared to the industry-wide security benchmark and best practices. Many compliances are developed to keep financial institutions in a healthy state. All financial services should maintain one or multiple compliance standards to secure uninterrupted data security and protection from cyber attacks on financial services.
  2. Developing vulnerability management:

    Financial institutions should adopt vulnerability management services or tools that would automatically detect a threat without spending more human resources and manual labor. By doing so they can stay ahead of the attacker and financial institutions can take proactive steps against potential threats before the threat becomes a problem. So it is important to practice vulnerability assessment because no organization can always find out the security weakness even if they have the best people armed with the best technology. 
    • It helps the authority to have a better look into the environment that helps them to identify the weakness that lies in the software and system
    • It helps the authority to better identify the vulnerabilities so that the most critical vulnerabilities can be prioritized and can be taken care of first.
  1. Building and developing a knowledgeable workforce: 

    cyber attacks on financial services happen because their security gets breached by the unawareness of the employees or via human error. Attackers take advantage of the nescience of the employees. It should be always remembered that employees are the first line of defense against cyber-attacks via social engineering or attacks that need human interaction to proceed. That’s why financial institutions should spontaneously and continuously invest in training so that employees can get familiarized with the recent threat patterns and what’s at stake.
  2. Supervising third-party vendors: 

    As financial institutions have to depend on many types of vendors, suppliers, and partners to serve more or expand the service territory, they also expose the financial institutions to various security issues. Though your organization is perfectly secured to tackle any cyberattacks, a weak link in the supply chain can cause a disaster and could be a major security hole. That’s why, along with the organization’s core security maintenance, it is vital to supervise and manage the third-party or fourth-party vendors to tackle and be safe from cyberattacks. The following steps can be taken to minimize and manage third-party security threats:
    • Helping third-party vendors and partners to develop a better security posture aligning the core institute
    • Keeping dedicated personnel to maintain best security practices between and among the third-party vendors.
    • Always limiting access of the third-party vendors to a certain limit associated with critical assets so that even if a data breach happens, attackers can’t move forward after a certain point
  1. Starting incident response or disaster recovery plan:

    No system or infrastructure is full-proof. There will be always a way to creep into the system. That’s why it is always recommended to have a contingency plan in case of a data breach or to eliminate malicious traffic. It is always a good practice to have a regular data backup so that in case of cyber attacks on financial services, the organization can roll back to its previous state and can mitigate the attack loss.
  2. Developing data encryption policy: 

    Though it might sound complex and it is a complex process to implement in every step but it is a good defensive strategy to safeguard a financial institution’s data in case of a data compromised situation. Encrypting the organization’s data in multiple steps cryptographically is a good practice to ensure the most sensitive digital assets.
  3. Reinforcing the organization’s machine regularly: 

    A financial institution must make sure that all the digital machines like workstations, smart devices, servers, etc. it has within the organization are enabled with an active firewall. Every PC is armed with anti-virus and spyware software individually or centrally within the network. It is also required to make sure all the firewalls, anti-virus, and spyware are updated regularly.
  4. Implementing policies within the organization to address cyber threats:

    It is obligatory to implement internal organizational policies that help to address any kind of fraudulent activities and cyber threats. At least the following steps should be implemented:
    • Organizations should regularly check, secure, and keep back up their clients’ data.
    • All the employees within an organization should have an independent user account and there should have a policy that dictates a mandatory changing of passwords after a certain time.
    • All the devices should be monitored and there should be a restriction on downloading and installing any unauthorized content within the organization's network and devices.
  1. Implementing a combination of approaches:

    Individual security technology is not enough to secure a financial institution’s framework. Henceforth, financial institutions need to actualize a mix of multiple methods to strengthen their IT framework. Each technology has its unique advantage and implementing a blend of the technology will give benefits like solid authentication, behavioral fraud detection, and out-of-band transaction check. This merged methodology is considered a standout amongst other strategies for battling cyber attacks on financial services.
  2. Securing endpoint by maximizing customer awareness:

    To make a financial institute’s framework cyber resilient, it is always good to educate its customers regarding all the threats and challenges so that attackers can’t exploit customers and use them as a gateway to the IT infrastructure of the organization. Steps that can be taken to educate and aware the customers,
    • Sending automated alerts and notifications of any update related to their accounts
    • Introducing them with multi-factor authentication to reinforce data privacy
    • Educating customers regarding the best practices to tackle cybercriminals
    • Arranging webinars or seminars to educate them on how to safely conduct any transaction using multiple platforms and what are practices should be avoided 


Building and maintaining a financial institute’s cybersecurity is not a one-time thing but a continuous process. Frameworks should be ceaselessly observed through surveillance technologies to discover any security loopholes. Risk assessments and incident response plans should be consistently updated by continuous risk and vulnerability assessments. IT infrastructure and related software or applications should be updated and upgraded regularly as updated versions frequently address the weaknesses present in the existing applications. 

Last but not least is that all financial institutions should have a common platform where they can share and get updated with the industry heads regarding cyber threats and prevention policies to prevent cyber attacks on financial services.



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